|ESPN.com: Mixed Martial Arts||[Print without images]|
Nothing is taking Nick Diaz's mind off the task at hand -- not the hoopla surrounding his refusal to move up in weight and face Jason "Mayhem" Miller nor the possibility of competing in a boxing match later this year.
Strikeforce's welterweight champion is focused solely on successfully defending his title on Saturday night (on Showtime at 10 ET) in San Jose, Calif., against Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos.
If Diaz loses focus for just a short period of time, his reign could end. Diaz (23-7-0, 1 no-contest) is aware that Santos has enough power and determination to end his night quickly.
"He's a brawler and he kicks well," Diaz said recently of Santos. "He's a kickboxer brawler. He's a good fighter.
"He has knockout power and he hits hard. He can hurt you with one punch."
Santos (18-13-0) offered an example of his powerful striking during his most recent bout in June 2010. He overwhelmed fellow kickboxer Marius Zaromskis en route to a first-round TKO win.
More impressive than how Santos won, though, was that he did so in his welterweight debut. Often times when a fighter drops a weight class, he loses power. That doesn't appear to be the case with Santos.
"The most important thing for me in moving to welterweight was finding my balance," Santos told ESPN.com. "When I started fighting, I was 18 years old and fighting at 155 pounds.
"Before moving to 170, my last fight was at 205. Now that I'm at 170, I am strong, powerful and can use all my tools."
Diaz is confident he will leave the cage on Saturday the same way he entered it, holding his 170-pound strap, but he's wary of Evangelista and respectful of his skills.
"He looks good at [185 pounds]," Diaz said. "I always tell people, if they are too small for 185 pounds, they should move down to 170.
"I usually call people out for being too small at that weight. But I wouldn't point the finger at him for that one. I think 185 is probably a better weight for him."
I just want to get paid. [Boxing champion Manny] Pacquiao's making $40 million. ... I'm over here driving a Honda because my [car] is breaking down.” -- Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz, on his considering a professional boxing match
Soon after the Evangelista fight, Diaz will turn his thoughts to Miller, a boxer or the next welterweight contender. Of the possibilities, facing a boxer is likely to appeal to him most.
Due to financial demands, Diaz-Miller is a long shot. The champion is willing to face Miller at 185 pounds, but only if the money is to his liking.
"I wouldn't mind moving up," Diaz said. "I'd just like to get paid for it.
"I just want to get paid. [Boxing champion Manny] Pacquiao's making $40 million. ... I'm over here driving a Honda because my [car] is breaking down."
Strikeforce officials haven't indicated a willingness to give Diaz any extra compensation to move up in weight. The champ, therefore, will likely turn his attention to boxing.
Diaz is itching to box, and although he recently re-signed with Strikeforce, according to his trainer, Cesar Gracie, the deal includes a clause that allows Diaz to compete in a boxing match this year.
Diaz is expected to exercise that clause. Facing a recognizable boxer could potentially land Diaz the largest paycheck of his career.
"In boxing, when you're a superstar, you get millions of dollars," Gracie told ESPN.com. "In MMA, you're not making that kind of money.
"We're in negotiations right now with [boxing promoter] Don Chargin. We would very much like to take a boxing match. It would probably be at super middleweight [168 pounds].
"There have been a few names kicked around. One of them is Fernando Vargas; another is Ricardo Mayorga."
Vargas, the former IBF junior middleweight titleholder, is 33. He hasn't fought since November 2007, when Mayorga defeated him by majority decision.
|Nick Diaz may be weighing a move from the cage to the ring, but for the moment he is focused on Evangelista Santos.|
Word has been spreading in boxing circles recently that Vargas is considering a comeback. Attempts by ESPN.com to get confirmation from Vargas have thus far been unsuccessful.
Diaz, however, might not have to wait for Vargas to determine his next move. A fight with Mayorga, whose MMA debut bout with Din Thomas in May 2010 was quashed by boxing promoter Don King, is a distinct possibility.
Mayorga has a March 12 date with WBA junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. But Alan Hopper, director of public relations for Don King Productions, isn't ruling out a fight with Diaz later this year.
"It's all about the rules," Hopper told ESPN.com. "As long as the combatants can adhere to the particular rules of the game they are participating in -- in this case a boxing match -- we'd be perfectly OK with that.
"Now, obviously, we hope [Mayorga] beats Cotto and will have bigger fish to fry in the boxing world. But you never know, you never know."
As eager as Diaz is to box, he isn't willing to openly discuss the matter until after he disposes of Santos. But even a win on Saturday won't immediately clear the path to a fight with Vargas or Mayorga. Hard-hitting Paul Daley is next in line for a shot at the Diaz-Santos winner.
The London-based slugger put his Strikeforce title shot in jeopardy by agreeing to face Yuya Shirai for the BAMMA 5 170-pound title. The two are scheduled to meet on Feb. 26 in Manchester, England. Daley is favored to win, but if he comes up short the welterweight-challenger picture gets hazy.
"If [Daley] loses, the deck is going to get reshuffled," Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said during a conference call. "If he wins, he will be the first in line to get the title shot."
For now, Diaz isn't giving any thought to his next opponent, whether it's Daley, Miller or a professional boxer. The only person that matters this week is Santos.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.